Iizuna Kogen Gets Its Convenience Store Back

May 21st, 2015 by
Category: Information

Nagomi-ya Convenience Store in Iizuna Kogen

Visitors to the Daiza Hoshi Pond area of Iizuna Kogen might have noticed that the only convenience store in the area closed its doors last autumn. The family that owned the little Yamazaki store decided to retire and shut up the place, much to the surprise of residents and visitors.

Fortunately a new owner has since re-opened the store, this time as a combination convenience store, gift shop and lunch cafe. Named “Nagomi-ya,” the store offers a small but decent selection of food and drink, including alcohol. Some of the food sold is bakery items from local bakers and includes cinnamon rolls and bagels (a hard to find item all over Japan!). Other common items to be found in a convenience store are available here, including newspapers, snacks, ice cream, health and beauty goods, and some stationery.

In the back of the store is an area of tables and chairs for patrons wishing to sit down and have lunch.  The lunch menu offered changes from day to day, but it typically includes coffee and cakes, some light lunch dishes and other small fare.

Nagomi-ya is open daily from 7 am until 8 pm. The store is located across the street from Daiza Hoshi Pond, just after the Eneos Gas Station on the Togakushi Birdline.

Togakushi’s Mirror Pond

June 23rd, 2014 by
Category: Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing

Togakushi's Kagami Ike in late spring.

If you ever find yourself in the Togakushi area, be sure to stop by and see the beautiful Kagami-ike.  The name, meaning “mirror pond”, is fitting, as it offers a wonderful reflection of the Togakushi Range.  Any time of the year is a good time, with autumn being the most popular. And if you go in winter, you won’t regret the views — you’ll just have to get there by snowshoe or cross-country ski.

The New E7 Shinkansen Starts Its Run

March 17th, 2014 by
Category: Information

The E7 Shinkansen pulling into Karuizawa Station

The newest Shinkansen model, denoted the E7 Series, began its run on Saturday, March 15. I got a chance to ride the new train on Sunday the 16th.

 

This new series has been built to replace the current E2 series being used on the Nagano Shinkansen line. It will also be used on the Hokuriku Shinkansen line, scheduled to open in 2015. The Hokuriku Shinkansen will provide high-speed service from Nagano to Kanazawa on the Japan Sea coast.

Running in a twelve-car arrangement and topping out at 275kph, the new series is an improvement in comfort and service from the previous design. It has three classes of cars: Gran Class, Green Car and Standard Car. All seats in all classes have adjustable headrests and an electrical outlet — one per seat — for charging a notebook computer, tablet or mobile phone.

The standard car seats appear to be the same width as before, but with considerably more legroom. Upholstery and interior design is much more contemporary, yet still with a Japanese feel to it.

Any shortcomings? Only one that I noticed. The windows are smaller than on the E2 train. But I didn’t take note of this until after I got off the train at Nagano Station and did a side-by-side comparison with an E2. And since I was only on board for thirty minutes, I didn’t take time to see the restrooms. Maybe next time.

It’s a nice improvement from before. It should make getting to and from Nagano even more enjoyable!

The 2012 Iizuna Fire Festival

August 3rd, 2012 by
Category: Information

Promotional poster for the 2012 Iizuna Fire Festival

One week to go to the 2012 Iizuna Fire Festival!  This event, held on August 10th at Daiza-hoshi-ike Pond is a popular evening show of fire, laser lights and fireworks set to music.  This year’s festival will be the 45th annual show in its history.

Events start at 5pm, and includes omikoshi (portable shrine), a giant bonfire over the water of the pond and a nice fireworks show.  Among the fireworks is a Niagara display across the length of the pond itself.

Getting up to Iizuna Kogen is a bit of an adventure.  You can take any of the public buses that run up to Togakushi from Nagano Station.  Just get off at Daiza-Hoshi-ike and you’ll be right smack in the middle of the party.

If you choose to drive up, you can take either the Nana-magari road, behind Zenkoji, followed by the Togakushi Birdline all the way up.  It is about a 25-minute drive up from Zenkoji.  When you see the pond on the left side of the road, you’ll know you are there.  An alternative route is the Asakawa Loop Line road, a newer course built for the 1998 Olympics.  That road starts in Uematsu and ends at the Iizuna Kogen Ski Area, to the north of Daiza-Hoshi-Ike.

Be aware the Togakushi Bird Line is closed to car traffic between Daiza-hoshi-ike pond and the taxi office next to the Yamazaki store.  Detours are marked.

Parking is available in the vicinity of the Iizuna Kogen Ski Area, north of the pond and at the Arcadia Hotel.  There is also a parking lot at Ichi-no-tori-en, across the street from the Nagano Country Club.  Shuttle buses will take you to the pond from each of these parking areas.  There is a 200 yen charge per person for the shuttle bus.  Two more parking areas are a bit closer by, in the area of the fire station, but they do not have shuttle bus service.

Some come on up, enjoy the show and the cool weather we get up here!

Details on schedules, maps and other information can be viewed at the Iizuna Kogen Tourism Association’s website here (Japanese only).

Daiza-Hoshi-ike in June

June 15th, 2012 by
Category: Information

Not much to write about, today.  Just a really great photo of Daiza-hoshi-ike pond that I took on the way back to the house after taking the kids to kindergarten yesterday morning.

Daiza-Hoshi-Ike pond in June 2012

For anyone not familiar with where this pond is, it is on the Togakushi Birdline, the main road taking drivers up from Nagano City to Togakushi.  If you take the Nana-Magari road from the Zenkoji area, you’ll see this pond on the left just as you reach the uppermost part of the climb up the mountain.  If you are coming from the Uematsu area of Nagano City, take the Asakawa Loop Line all the way up and turn left when you get to the Iizuna Kogen Ski Area.  Drive past the Arcadia Hotel (currently closed) and at the stop sign, the pond will be across the street in front of you.

If the weather is nice, spend the day here.  There are plenty of spots to take a walk and have a picnic.

A Taste of Hawaii in Downtown Nagano

April 30th, 2012 by
Category: Information
Mountain Burger at Mountain Q restaurant in Nagano.

Mountain Burger at Mountain Q restaurant in Nagano.

People who are familiar with Hawaii probably know about all the little, family-run, popular-with-the-locals type of diners found throughout the state, well away from the resort areas.  They serve great food in generous portions at very affordable prices.

Well, Nagano City has just such a place, found right on Chuo Dori, the road leading up to Zenkoji.  The name is “Mountain Q”.  I have no idea why it is named as such, but it is very easy to find.  Just look for the place decorated with lots of Hawaiian stuff.  Not really over the top, but just enough to get your attention.

Walk in the door and the staff cries out, “Irasshaimase!  ALOHA!!” and from there you go to your seat, either at a table or at a booth.  Music from Hawaiian artists plays on the sound system.  Sometimes you get live radio from Honolulu, and can hear the latest traffic reports about how the cars are flowing on Kalakaua Avenue.  Place an order and during the surprisingly short time before your food arrives, you can browse some of the Hawaii-related travel magazines they have.  Or gaze at the images of Hawaii on the flat-screen TV on the wall over the booth area.  But it won’t be long before you are eating!

The menu has entrees like the ever popular Loco Moco, a grilled hamburger patty drenched in gravy on top of rice with sunny-side-up egg.  These are served in a wooden plate shaped like a pineapple.  Though delicious, loco moco is very high-calorie, so be careful!  Then there is the Mountain Burger.  Far surpassing anything you’ll find at McDonald’s, this large, messy, yet very tasty meal is a grilled hamburger on a lightly toasted bun served with lettuce, tomato and pickles and other add-ons you can choose from.  It is served with a side of shoestring fries, which, if you ask me, are, on their own, worth a trip to this restaurant.  There are other burgers, sandwiches and, perhaps most unique…Taco Rice.  Though the name suggests it contains octopus (in Japanese tako means octopus), it does not.  It is a popular Okinawan dish of Tex-mex flavored ground beef served on top of rice.  It’s…REALLY good!

Desserts are just as impressive.  You can order an ice cream sundae and not only have it topped off with whipped cream, fresh fruit and a tropical flower, but inside, mixed between scoops of ice cream, where Japanese usually put some corn flakes, you’ll find — no joke — Cheerios.  Funniest of all is that, in keeping with the quirky way in which they serve food at this place, our sundae today was served in a glass measuring cup.  It brought a smile to everyone’s faces.

Though well stocked with plenty of adult beverages, we always go with the kids for lunch and opt for juice or iced coffee with our meal.  Drinks come in large glasses and the pineapple juice was a big hit with our daughters, age 8 and 5.  Guava juice would be a welcome addition to their menu, but mango juice always will suffice for me!  A fun place to be during the day, I would bet it’s even more fun to be here at night.  The bar counter itself is very small, but this whole place has the look and feel of a fun night-time pub.  Give it a try!

And when it is time to hit the road, the staff will bid you farewell with as much energy as they did when you came in, calling out, “Arigato gozaimashita!  MAHALO!!”

Mountain Q, located at 1398-1 Kitaishidocho in Nagano City, is found on Chuo Dori.  On foot, from Nagano Station, head over to Chuo Dori and head up in the direction of Zenkoji about 350 meters or so.  After passing a Lawson convenience store on a street corner on the right, keep going up the same street and you’ll see the restaurant on the right, just after a bus stop.  If you are arriving by car, the nearest parking is at the JA building, one block to the west.
Mountain Q is open daily from 12:00 – 23:00 but closes on weekdays between 15:00 and 17:00. You can see its location on a map here.

The Exciting Snowball Fight in Iizuna

January 22nd, 2012 by
Category: Information

Snowball Fight in Iizuna

Snowball Fight in Iizuna

Today in the park next to Daiza Hoshi Ike pond, there is an event going on that is bringing a lot of visitors beside skiers and snowboarders. It is an organized snowball fight, The Exciting Snowball Fight in Iizuna. Sponsored by Nagano Broadcasting (NBS), the event features 30 teams battling it out for the championship spot. The challenge is set up much like “Capture the Flag”. Team members try to get to the opposing team’s flag and capture it without getting hit by the other team’s snowballs.

More information (Japanese only, sorry) is available at the NBS website.

The 2011 Iizuna Fire Festival

July 26th, 2011 by
Category: Events

Lots of summer festivals in Japan are crowded and hot, but here’s one where you can remove the summer heat and enjoy the festivities in the cool, comfortable weather of a mountain highland.  On August 10th, the 44th Annual Iizuna Fire Festival will be held at Daiza-Hoshi-ike (pond), in Iizuna Kogen.

Publicity poster for the 2011 Iizuna Fire Festival

Publicity poster for the 2011 Iizuna Fire Festival

The festival begins at 5pm, and includes omikoshi (portable shrine), a giant bonfire over the water of the pond and a nice fireworks show.  Among the fireworks is a Niagara display across the length of the pond itself.

Getting up to Iizuna Kogen is a bit of an adventure.  You can take any of the public buses that run up to Togakushi from Nagano Station.  Just get off at Daiza-Hoshi-ike and you’ll be right smack in the middle of the party.

If you choose to drive up, you can take either the Nana-magari road, behind Zenkoji, followed by the Togakushi Birdline all the way up.  It is about a 25-minute drive up from Zenkoji.  When you see the pond on the left side of the road, you’ll know you are there.  An alternative route is the Asakawa Loop Line road, a newer course built for the 1998 Olympics.  That road starts in Uematsu and ends at the Iizuna Kogen Ski Area, to the north of Daiza-Hoshi-Ike.

Parking is available in the vicinity of the Iizuna Kogen Ski Area, north of the pond.  There is also a parking lot at Ichi-no-tori-en, across the street from the Nagano Country Club.  Shuttle buses will take you to the pond from each of these parking areas.  There is a 200 yen charge per person for the shuttle bus.  Two more parking areas are a bit closer by, in the area of the fire station, but they do not have shuttle bus service.

Come on up and enjoy the show — and the cool weather!

Details on schedules, maps and other information can be viewed at the Iizuna Kogen Tourism Association’s website here (Japanese only).

The Fujiya Gohonjin

August 17th, 2010 by
Category: Cuisine
The Main Dining Wisteria at Fujiya Gohonjin

The Main Dining Wisteria at Fujiya Gohonjin

OK, before I say anything, please trust me that I was not bribed or in receipt of anything to get me to write this post.  Really.  No, really.  Stop laughing!

I recently went out to dinner, perhaps for the third of fourth time, at the Fujiya Gohonjin in Nagano City, on Chuo Dori, just downhill a bit from Zenkoji temple.  I am convinced this restaurant has the BEST Italian and Continental fare in Nagano.  I would go so far as to say it is the best in all of Japan, but since I haven’t eaten much Italian in, say Tokyo or Kyoto, I can’t yet make so bold a statement.

Over the twleve years I have been in Japan (11 of them in Nagano), I have patiently put up with a lot of what the locals call Italian food.  The Fujiya Gohonjin was such a breath of fresh air for me.  It is one of the few restaurants around here that does NOT have ketchup as one of their pasta sauce ingredients.  Here the sauce is thick — order pasta with tomato sauce and you get a tomato and vegetable sauce so thick you could eat the sauce itself with a fork.  And when you have cleaned off your plate, you won’t find a reservoir of pink water at the bottom as you would find eating out at just about any other Italian restaurant around here.

The pasta is not the only great food to find here.  Everything my family, friends and I have tried on the menu is fantastic.  So much so, it was almost enough to make me feel like I was in Italy again.  But just one look at the staff reminded me that I was, in fact, in Japan.

The Fujiya has a number of rooms, all of them very nicely appointed.  The Main Dining Wisteria is the most popular place to eat.  It is a large room with a view of the garden on one side and the open kitchen on the other.  A very nice atmosphere all around and the staff is very polite, professional and friendly.

Kids are welcome here too; even the noisiest ones such as my own are tolerated.  This restaurant is a great place to surprise someone on their birthday.  The entire wait staff will bring out a cake while cheering and appluading the birthday boy or girl.

For more  information, take a look at their website, which is in Japanese and English:  http://www.thefujiyagohonjin.com/

Knife Making at Sakaki Katana Museum

July 6th, 2010 by
Category: Culture Art, Events
Visitors making a knife.

Visitors making a knife.

On Sunday, July 4th, the Sakaki Katana Museum held a special knife making event where visitors could learn how to fashion a 210mm carpentry nail into a small knife using ancient samurai sword-making techniques.

Both children and adults alike participated, signing up at the community hall adjacent to the Sakaki Katana Museum in Sakaki.  There were several anvils and a number of hammers which people used to pound the steel nails flat, slowly, one pound at a time, taking on the shape of a knife.  Several katana makers and apprentices were on hand to advise, correct and touch up the knives visitors were making.

Aside from pounding the nails flat on an anvil, the visitors used a grinding machine to sharpen the knives, cleaned the blades, wrapped cord around the unsharpened end to create a grip, and made a sheath out of newspaper.

In the end, what was once a nail turned into a small knife, much like a letter opener, but with a blade probably sharp enough for shaving!  A nice thing to take home at the end of the event, but definitely not something to give to your kids!

The Sakaki Katana Museum, located just up the road from Sakaki Station, features displays of samurai swords (katana) crafted by several different swordmakers, including one foreign-born master.  Almost all of the swords on display are without grips, guards or sheaths, and the blades range in sized from around 25cm to as long as 80cm.

Admission to the museum is 400 yen for adults.